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With Strike Averted, Alderman Wants CPS To Focus On 19th Ward Schools

By Howard Ludwig | October 14, 2016 6:13am
 Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) wants Chicago Public Schools to focus on issues of overcrowding, declining enrollment and disinvestment in his Southwest Side Ward.
Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) wants Chicago Public Schools to focus on issues of overcrowding, declining enrollment and disinvestment in his Southwest Side Ward.
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BEVERLY — Having seemingly averted a teachers strike, Ald. Matt O'Shea wants Chicago Public Schools to focus on issues of overcrowding, under-enrollment and disinvestment in the 19th Ward.

O'Shea dropped his controversial proposal this week that aimed at solving the diverse set of problems facing public elementary schools within the ward. The sweeping plan included merging Kellogg and Sutherland elementary schools in Beverly.

"When you don't have community buy-in and the families don't want this, we are going to have to look at other options," he said the day after walking away from his proposal.

O'Shea cited declining enrollment at the two schools as the reason behind the proposed merger. Meanwhile, the Keller Regional Gifted Center in Mount Greenwood would have moved to the North Beverly campus Kellogg left behind at 9241 S. Leavitt St.

Mount Greenwood Elementary School was then poised take over Keller's facilities at 3020 W. 108th St. under O'Shea's plan, giving the overcrowded school at 10841 S. Homan Ave. a second campus just 3½ blocks away.

O'Shea's shake-up was also designed to free up funding for Esmond Elementary School in Morgan Park — which he maintained was a top priority when touting the proposal. This often-overlooked school at 1865 W. Montvale Ave. suffers from crumbling facilities that desperately need to be replaced, he said.

On Tuesday, he said gave a rough estimate of $15 million for a new building at Esmond.

Residents objected to O'Shea's plan over the racial ramifications of the proposed merger, fears of shifting overcrowding to Beverly and more. He abandoned his proposal in an email to constituents, citing a lack of "community support."

"Most people were strongly against it. Those people that did support it didn't want to speak up," O'Shea said.

But the issues that birthed O'Shea's plan remain. And he pushed for CPS to offer their suggestions for resolving the multitude of problems facing public school students the 19th Ward.

"Esmond needs a multi-million dollar investment, period. And I will continue to fight for that," said O'Shea, also citing overcrowding at Mount Greenwood School and declining enrollment by families living within the neighborhood boundaries of Kellogg and Sutherland as priorities.

O'Shea attended five public meetings to discuss the proposal he unveiled Sept 6. He collected feedback at all of the meetings and said his office served as a clearinghouse for those with alternative proposals.

He turned all of this over to CPS looking for guidance. But he said his meetings with the state's largest school system were often canceled as higher-ups cited their efforts to avoid a work stoppage as taking precedence.

"I have given them multiple options," said O'Shea, who was frustrated by the CPS response.

The purchase or lease of property owned by Saint Xavier University and others is among the alternative options O'Shea presented to CPS to relieve overcrowding at Mount Greenwood School.

CPS facilities personnel have toured some of these properties but have yet to offer their opinions, said O'Shea, who previously credited feedback from the community forums as the impetus behind investigating the university's property.

With his proposal off the board, O'Shea also said all options are up for consideration. This may include the possible $20 million annex to the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences in Mount Greenwood that would create a junior high feeder program.

O'Shea said he was against that idea when presenting his plan as it is designed to draw top-tier students away from Mount Greenwood and Cassell schools. He also said it continues a pattern of disproportionately investing in new schools on the western edge of the ward.

O'Shea would also not deny that a move for Keller might be considered to alleviate overcrowding at Mount Greenwood, reiterating that all options are on the table and he's waiting to hear back from CPS.

Whatever the CPS recommendations, O'Shea seemed short on patience and said he has no intention of merely letting the issues go without resolution.

"I don't want this to linger," he said.

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